Paul Spinelli/Associated Press
25. Steven Jackson, 24th overall, 2004
This dude deserves a medal of valor, or something. Since he became a starter in 2005, no one has more scrimmage yards than Jackson's 11,234. Despite playing on lousy teams and fighting numerous injuries, No. 39 has racked up seven straight 1,000-yard seasons. His 2006 campaign -- 2,434 scrimmage yards and 16 touchdowns -- is still one of the best years for a running back ever. Tough cuts in favor of Jackson: Joe Flacco, Clay Matthews and John Abraham.
Denis Poroy/Associated Press
24. Philip Rivers, fourth overall, 2004
Technically, Rivers was not a Chargers draft pick, as he was part of that Eli Manning-centric megadeal with the Giants during the 2004 draft. Unlike Manning, Rivers wanted to play in San Diego, and has been brilliant for the Bolts. While his detractors will point to his 20-interception campaign in 2011, they too easily forget his 27 touchdown passes. Rivers is 63-33 as a starting quarterback while tossing 163 touchdowns to only 78 picks.
Chris Gardner/Associated Press
23. Haloti Ngata, 12th overall, 2006
The Ravens defense has been a top-five unit the last couple of seasons more because of Ngata than Ray Lewis or Terrell Suggs. Make no mistake, Ngata is an unmitigated force in the middle. So much so that he's been a first-team All-Pro at nose tackle two years running. Ask any league analyst who the best interior defensive lineman in the league is and you'll get the same answer: Ngata.
Greg Trott/Associated Press
22. Richard Seymour, sixth overall, 2001
It's hard to believe Seymour has been around for 11 years. It doesn't seem long ago that he was an impressive rookie who not only started for Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but was a major factor in the Patriots' run to a Super Bowl title that season. Seymour is a seven-time Pro Bowler whose best attribute is his ability to play inside or outside on the line. He's been steady for a decade.
Jason DeCrow/Associated Press
21. Calvin Johnson, second overall, 2007
The league's most explosive wide receiver should have been the top overall pick in 2007, but the Raiders made the JaMarcus Russell mistake. Thank goodness, because Lions fans were already finding their way to the bottom of the bottle over such Matt Millen draft gems as WRs Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams. Johnson has three 1,000-yard seasons, including 1,681 yards last year.
Jason DeCrow/Associated Press
20. Jake Long, first overall, 2008
A lot of Dolphins fans wish the team would have taken Matt Ryan first overall in 2008. Why? So that they too could be one and done in the playoffs? Ryan is a terrific player, no question, but he's not nearly as good at his position as Long is at his. Along with Joe Thomas, Long is the best in the game. He's made the Pro Bowl every year he's been in the league and can completely neutralize a pass rusher.
Paul Sakuma/Associated Press
19. Nnamdi Asomugha 31st overall, 2003
Asomugha was a tremendous steal in 2003 when the cover-hungry Raiders grabbed this shutdown corner. How does a corner with Asomugha's ability go 31st in the draft? Oakland has a long tradition of great corners, from Willie Brown to Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes. Unfortunately for Raiders fans, Asomugha departed via free agency in 2011, but he did give them eight years of quality play at an All-Pro level.
Darron Cummings/Associated Press
18. Reggie Wayne, 30th overall, 2001
The 18-spot on this list of top first-round picks of the millennium is all about bang-for-the-buck. Wayne, with his 862 catches, 11,708 yards, five Pro Bowls, numerous big-time grabs, and Super Bowl ring is about as good a value as you can get from a 30th overall pick. In fact, he's the best guy taken in the 30-hole ever.
Ed Betz/Associated Press
17. Julius Peppers, second overall, 2002
Peppers was taken much higher than Reggie Wayne or Nnamdi Asomugha in 2002, but that doesn't mean he wasn't a heckuva value buy too. In fact, he was the first pick of the John Fox administration in Carolina. Considering David Carr went before Peppers and Joey Harrington immediately after ... perhaps this is Case 1.0 that drafting a "franchise" quarterback is not always best. Peppers' ledger: Defensive Rookie of the Year, six Pro Bowls and 100 sacks.
Tony Dejak/Associated Press
16. Joe Thomas, third overall, 2007
Thomas looks to be on a crash course to Canton, and has worked out a whole lot better than Cleveland's other first-round choice in 2007: Brady Quinn, who was taken 22nd overall. Thomas has been in the league five years, and has made the Pro Bowl every one of those years. Much like Steven Jackson, you hope that Thomas gets to be a part of some larger team success. The Browns are 28-52 in his career ... yikes.
Greg Trott/Associated Press
15. Patrick Willis, 11th overall, 2007
If Willis isn't currently the most impactful player on the defensive side of the ball in the entire league, it sure won't take long to call roll. The 49ers knocked it out of the park on this pick. Willis has played five seasons, and has been a first-team All-Pro for all but one. That constitutes being an impressive player.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
14. Brian Urlacher, ninth overall, 2000
What makes Urlacher so special is his knack of being in the right position at the right time, such as reading formations and anticipating offensive plays. His ability to get depth in the Bears' Cover Two scheme -- while still being a force against the run -- has sent him to eight Pro Bowls, and made him one of the best players of the 2000s. Urlacher has forced 43 turnovers in his career to go with 41.5 sacks.
John Harrell/Associated Press
13. Dwight Freeney, 11th overall, 2002
Freeney has been mentioned in books ("The Blind Side"), lists (the "NFL's Top 100" players series on NFL Network), and as the best pass rushing defensive end in football by many league observers. In 2011, he wasn't the machine he's normally been, but his 102.5 sacks in only 10 seasons says it all. If he hadn't missed significant time to injuries, those numbers would be even higher.
Tom Olmscheid/Associated Press
12. Adrian Peterson, seventh overall, 2007
It's tough typing A-d-r-i-a-n P-e-t-e-r-s-o-n 12th on any list. The competition in this stratosphere -- the top first-round picks of the 2000s -- is ridiculous, particularly for a guy who has rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his five seasons (with a 4.8 yards-per-carry average), never complains, and always plays physical. The only issue for AD was fumblitis earlier in his career, which cost the Vikings in the 2009 NFC Championship Game.
David Drapkin/Associated Press
11. Eli Manning, first overall, 2004
Manning supporters could certainly make a case for him being higher on this list. Two Super Bowl rings and some incredibly clutch play in the playoffs ... like the fact that he threw 15 touchdowns to just two interceptions during the Giants' two Super Bowl runs in 2007 and 2011. But considering he was a draft pick of the San Diego Chargers and struggled early in his career, 11th feels right.
David Drapkin/Associated Press
10. Darrelle Revis, 14th overall, 2007
How does someone put Revis over Eli Manning? Simple, he was better early in his career and he's the best player at his position in the game. Ironically, it's the missing component on Revis' resume that shows his true greatness: Interceptions. As in, he doesn't have a lot (like a goose egg in 2010). That's because nobody wants to throw at the three-time, first-team All-Pro.
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
9. Andre Johnson, third overall, 2003
"A beast" ... that's what Darrelle Revis called Johnson. Yep, he pretty much nailed it. At times, Johnson has been the very best wide receiver in the game, and he's easily the best overall player in Texans history. The only thing keeping the five-time Pro Bowler from being higher on the list is the 22 games he's missed due to injury.
Paul Spinelli/Associated Press
8. DeMarcus Ware, 11th overall, 2005
In 2005, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells knew he wanted to switch to a 3-4 base defense, and he just needed the right pieces. So with the 11th pick, the Big Tuna acquired the biggest piece ... the queen on the chessboard. Ware was pretty much solid from the get-go, notching eight sacks his first season. The numbers get silly from there: 11.5, 14, 20, 11, 15.5 and 19.5 sacks. No one in the league can touch that production.
Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
7. Steve Hutchinson, 17th overall, 2001
Dominance on the inside, that's what Hutchinson's career has been about. A strong presence who could move and played smart, this former Seahawk and Viking is now starting over with the Titans under Mike Munchak. That's ironic, considering that Munchak made his name in the NFL as a Hall of Fame lineman, which is precisely what Hutchinson is. The brilliant guard has been a first-team All-Pro five times.
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
6. Troy Polamalu, 16th overall, 2003
One of the most impactful defensive players of this generation is right here. Polamalu has pretty much been better than any player taken in his draft class, with only the Texans' Andre Johnson giving him a run for his money. In nine years, Polamalu has been a Defensive MVP, a four-time first-team All-Pro, and has been on two Super Bowl-winning teams.
Tom Hood/Associated Press
5. Larry Fitzgerald, third overall, 2004
The fifth-best first-round pick of Y2K has had five straight 1,000-yard seasons, and six overall. He's gone over the 1,400-yard mark four times as a pro, a huge figure even in today's pass-happy league. Fitz is not just a regular-season wonder either, as he's never had less than six catches in any of his six career playoff games. In fact, his 546 receiving yards in the 2008 postseason is an NFL record.
John Marshall Mantel/Associated Press
4. Ben Roethlisberger, 11th overall, 2004
For the third quarterback taken in the 2004 draft, and not even being a top-10 pick, Roethlisberger can certainly lay claim to the top of this list. Two Super Bowl wins are really the beginning and end of his argument. One of the more impressive dimensions of Roethlisberger's career was how good he was out of the gate, posting a 13-0 regular-season record with a 98.1 passer rating his rookie year.
Matt Houston/Associated Press
3. Ed Reed, 24th overall, 2002
Reed is going to be in the Hall of Fame one day. Our third-best Y2K first-rounder has 57 career interceptions, the most among active players and 28 (28!) more than the next closest safety (Troy Polamalu). Reed was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, and was a wonderful value in the first round, essentially tied with Aaron Rodgers as the best 24th overall pick in NFL history.
Lenny Igenlzi/Associated Press
2. LaDainian Tomlinson, 5th overall 2001
The slow-to-a-trickle end that's taking place in New York should not diminish a brilliant career. Just think: Young football fans who are just starting high school probably think of Tomlinson as an average third-down back. They don't realize this guy ran for 1,000 yards nine times, including five seasons of 1,400-plus. Tomlinson has 162 touchdowns to his name (third all-time), an MVP award, and even had a 100-catch season.
Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
1. Aaron Rodgers, 24th overall 2005
Rodgers gets the narrow nod over Ed Reed and LaDainian Tomlinson -- today, anyway -- as the top first-round pick of the 2000s. Like Reed, he lasted toward the end of the first round. Rodgers already has three 4,000-yard seasons and has gracefully followed a legend in Brett Favre -- all for a guy who was taken 24th. The AP named him league MVP in 2011, after winning Super Bowl MVP in 2010. What's next?
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